Alzheimer’s, the epilogue for Beulah
A year and a half ago, I wrote several posts about my mother-in-law’s experiences with Alzheimer’s. She stayed with us for a month or two, so we were able to see first hand how insidious this disease is, as well as how the illness impacts caregivers.
At the time she stayed with us, Buelah was still trying to participate in conversations, although quite often she became very frustrated. She couldn’t remember much of anything: who we were, where she was, where her husband was, and even whether she had a husband. I would greet her in the morning with a piece of paper that had all the pertinent information. She would carry that around with her, or I’d have to keep giving it back to her throughout the day. She’d write bits of information on it as new thoughts came to her. It really seemed to help all of us, since we didn’t have to continuously repeat ourselves. We’d just point to the paper and she’d be able to answer her own questions.
She was also still able to express herself. She was able to share that she was frustrated and at times angry. She said she was not able to remember. She asked questions. Beulah was also able to and interested in staying busy. We gave her a rake and wheelbarrow and she just raked and raked. In fact, I had to force her to stop after several hours, by hiding the rake and the wheelbarrow. And she looked at me, and said, “But I want to be useful.” Beulah just wanted to matter.
After her time with us, she went back to live with her husband and by the time another year had passed, her Alzheimers had gotten much worse. She didn’t do much during the day but sleep or sit, occasionally yelling “I don’t remember!” She didn’t try too much to get involved in conversations, but I know Beulah was still inside somewhere, frustrated that she could not communicate. She would shuffle along if we went for a walk, with her head pointed at the ground. One day while we were walking together, I told her it was a beautiful day, and by looking at the ground she was missing the beauty. She kept looking downwards. And I said, “you know, Beulah, if you walk straighter, your boobs will look bigger.” Well, wouldn’t you know, she straightened her back and looked at her boobs. She was in there, she was listening, but she was definitely struggling.
Earlier this year, Buelah and my father-in-law went down to live in Florida. The day she was getting ready to leave the house, I watched her as she grabbed a hat. She put it on her head, looking at herself in the mirror. She pushed it to a jaunty angle, smiled at herself, and came out of the room. She might not have been able to communicate well, but she knew she was going somewhere warm. And she seemed to be okay with that decision. In fact, I think she was looking forward to a change.
And off we went to get into the car. As we did, Beulah was standing perfectly still near the vehicle and then she just fell backwards into the snow. And laid there as if to say, “what now?” I helped her up and realized that her brain just was not communicating properly with the rest of her. It had forgotten to tell her how to stand. Unfortunately this was just the first of many falls over the next few months. She broke her pelvic bone a few days after arriving in Florida. Then she fell again and smacked her head. And then she fell and broke her femur.
Surgery followed. Apparently Alzheimers and anesthesia do not get along well. She never recovered. We went down to see her right after the surgery. And as always, she was inside, but couldn’t get out. Beulah struggled to sit when she heard our voices. And after a few minutes of sitting there with a vacant look on her face, she slowly turned her eyes to look at me. Her eyes looked warm, and they bored into mine. And then she did her best to blow me a kiss, and I could even see a bit of a smile appear. I blew one back. That was the last connection we had.
A week or so later Beulah passed away. Her battle with the horrific disease of Alzheimers had ended. Her non-stop fight to try to make her brain cells work was over. And all I could think as I participated in her funeral service was, “You mattered, Beulah. You mattered a lot.”